by Elaine Marranzano –
“Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances of all time. If these kids start using it in the seventh or eighth grade – by the time they get to high school it’s all done.”
— Dr. Richard Stumacher
The skyrocketing popularity of vaping among young people is alarming experts who warn the popular fad is addicting a whole new generation to nicotine.
“This is a nasty, nasty thing happening to our youth,” said Richard Stumacher, MD, Chief, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Northern Westchester Hospital. “It is going really fast and parents don’t even know about it.”
Vaping is the popular term for using battery-powered electronic cigarettes or vaporizers which convert a liquid known as “vape juice” into a vapor inhaled by the user. The chemical-laced vape juice may contain flavorings, nicotine and/or marijuana oil.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, vaping among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014. At Sleepy Hollow High School, “a lot of kids are doing it by ducking into bathrooms,” according to one student who did not want to be identified. “They don’t think there is really anything wrong with it.”
Promoted as a safer nicotine delivery device than cigarettes, vaping has an ironic dual role of helping smokers quit and non-smokers become addicted to nicotine.
“For people who have failed smoking cessation programs, I would rather you smoke this than a pack of cigarettes,” said Stumacher. “But parents should not buy these products for their kids – ever.”
The part of the brain which controls cognition, emotion, and drug reward is actively maturing during adolescence. Exposure to nicotine at this time disrupts its normal development leaving children with emotional difficulties, attention deficit disorder and a greater chance of becoming addicted to other substances.
While vapes can be used without nicotine, last fall New York State put e-cigarettes into the same category as regular tobacco cigarettes and banned vaping anywhere smoking is prohibited, including schools. In most local municipalities, including those in Westchester County, the legal age to vape is 18 – the same as purchasing cigarettes. In New York City, the age is 21. However, one study showed that minors had no trouble buying vape juice containing nicotine and devices online.
“Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances of all time,” said Stumacher. “If these kids start using it in the seventh or eighth grade – by the time they get to high school it’s all done.”
Teens and children (as young as middle school) can be seen on the Internet competing to produce the most interesting vapor clouds using e-cigs. Some kids estimate that half their peers are vaping. Fruity or bubble gum flavors and modified vaping devices shaped like Pokeballs or Game Boys, known as “mods,” are intended to appeal to children and draw them into the “nicotine addiction industry,” according to Dr. Stumacher.
One juice-flavored pod in the JUUL brand of electronic cigarette delivers the same amount of nicotine found in a whole pack of cigarettes. While the smell of cigarette smoke gave away generations of furtive teenage smokers, vaping easily goes undetected. The JUUL device looks like a computer thumb-drive and produces no odor.
“To catch them, you would almost have to be there the moment they inhale,” said Chris Borsari, Tarrytown Schools Superintendent, who added there have only been “one or two” incidents at Sleepy Hollow High School where vaping devices have been confiscated.
Until last year when the law was enacted to stop retailers from selling e-cigarettes to people under age 18, vaping devices were completely unregulated. Even now the FDA notes that “regulation of these products does not mean they are safe to use.”
“It is not really known what chemicals or how much are in these things, the government is just now trying to catch up,” said Stumacher.
The vapor producing liquid is known to contain benzene (found in car exhaust), ultrafine particles, and heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead. One vape flavoring known as diacetyl is linked to a potentially fatal lung disease called “popcorn lung.”
“Make no mistake, this is a looming health crisis,” said Stumacher. “Ten to 20 years from now, this is going to get really ugly.”